As a reporter for the State Bar of Georgia, Paul Milich helped write new rules of evidence for Georgia.
June 7, 2011
ATLANTA -- Georgia's recent adoption of new evidence rules is good news for everyone, Georgia State University College of Law Professor Paul S. Milich writes in an opinion piece recently published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
"The rules of evidence control what facts can and cannot be admitted at trial and tell judges and lawyers how to get the facts admitted," writes Milich, who as a reporter for the State Bar of Georgia's Evidence Study Committee helped draft the new rules. "Our 19th-century evidence rules do not fit the 21st century very well. Phones did not exist when Georgia’s evidence code was written in 1860, let alone cars, videos, computers, or even Facebook."
In the piece, Milich details the long road to passage for Georgia evidence code, which hadn't been updated in 150 years. The State Bar first urged adoption more than 20 years ago, he wrote, noting that Nathan Deal, then leader of the Senate, carried the new rules to unanimous approval in the Senate only to have the rules languish in the House. Milich credits Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, whose leadership over a three-year period brought the new rules to final passage in the House and Senate.
"Now Georgia’s judges and lawyers have new, improved tools to administer justice in our courts," Milich wrote. "The benefits may not be as visible to non-lawyers as a new highway or hospital but they are just as real."
Milich was also quoted extensively in a story by John Gramlich for Stateline.org on Georgia's new rules of evidence, which has been published in newspapers around the country.
The article explains how almost every state has changed its evidence code in recent decades to bring it in line with the Federal Rules of Evidence, a national system that was enacted in 1975 to bring uniformity to federal proceedings. Georgia, however, has doggedly stuck to its own rules — many of them unchanged since 1863 — even though all of its neighboring states have embraced the federal code.
Gramlich writes that the result, according to critics, has been an uneven and confusing application of basic evidence rules depending on whether a case is being handled in federal or state court or whether it is being heard in Georgia or any other nearby state. Georgia, for instance, is the only state still following a 19th century rule that technically considers hearsay “illegal evidence.” The state often requires original documents to be presented, even though most other states say copies are sufficient. Under some circumstances, juries can decide whether evidence is admissible, though almost everywhere else judges must make that determination.
“It’s not good for anybody when people have to learn two sets of rules,” Milich says in the article. “Sometimes they don’t know either set very well.”
The new evidence code goes into effect on January 1, 2013.
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